Most people are aware by now that the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up of Covid-19 pandemic-related information, especially between late 2019 and early 2020, delayed governments worldwide from taking appropriate interventions that would have prevented many deaths and much suffering. But a recent congressional hearing revealed that the CCP wasn’t the only one guilty. A few key public health officials and scientists in the West served as the party’s useful idiots by shutting down debates about the origin of the pandemic early on.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic held a hearing in mid-July to “examine the potential conflicts of interest and suppression of scientific discourse by the National Institutes of Health surrounding the drafting, publication, and critical reception of the infamous ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’ (Proximal Origin) correspondence.”
The infamous paper, “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” was published in the influential journal Nature Medicine on March 17, 2020. Its five authors wrote with unequivocal confidence: “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus. We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
Joao Monteiro, the chief editor of Nature Medicine, tweeted on the same day: “Let’s put conspiracy theories about the origin of #SARSCoV2 to rest and help to stop the spread of misinformation—great work from @K_G_Andersen #covid19.” The prestige of the authors and the magazine turned this paper into one of the most potent weapons to suppress the debate over the lab-leak theory of Covid’s origin.
According to the House subcommittee’s report, since the commentary’s publication, it has been regarded as “the single most impactful and influential scientific paper in history” and “has been accessed 5.84 million times.” Government officials, the media, scientists, and many others referred to it as indisputable evidence that the lab-leak theory was a conspiracy and that anyone who brought it up was a conspiracist and a racist. The Chinese Communist Party welcomed the commentary as scientific backing to insist that Covid-19 originated in nature; thus, the CCP was not responsible for the 15 million Covid-related deaths and millions more suffering during the pandemic.
Science Tainted by Politics
Yet through the Herculean efforts of a determined few, including journalists such as Ian Birrell, the volunteer group DRASTIC, and the Republican-led House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, the public has now learned that the paper wasn’t an objective scientific inquiry but rather the result of coordinated efforts between them and public health officials. The most troubling aspect of the paper is that although the authors denounced the lab-leak theory publicly, they privately doubted their own conclusion and worried that there was growing evidence contradicting their assertion.
According to the House subcommittee’s report, on Jan. 31, 2020, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and adviser to President Donald Trump on the pandemic, requested Kristian G. Andersen, a scientist working at the Scripps Research Institute, to draft a paper aiming to “disprove the lab leak theory to avoid blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The next day, on Feb. 1, Sir Jeremy Farrar, then director of the Wellcome Trust (now the chief scientist of the World Health Organization), convened a conference call. Participants included all five scientists who later authored the “Proximal Origin” paper: Fauci, Director of National Institutes of Health (NIH) Francis Collins, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser until recently. Due to Fauci’s repeated nudging, Andersen began to draft a paper rejecting the lab-leak theory.
Double-Faced, Deceptive Scientists
Emails and private messages showed that almost all the participants at the time thought the lab-leak theory was probable. Farrar said Covid-19 “was a brand-new virus that seemingly sprang from nowhere. Except that this pathogen had surfaced in Wuhan, a city with a BSL-4 virology lab that is home to an almost unrivaled collection of bat viruses.” Yet despite his doubt, Farrar’s primary concerns were to protect the controversial “gain-of-function” research that he and Fauci funded and to avoid blaming the Chinese government for the sake of preventing the Sino-U.S. relationship from further deteriorating under Trump. What should have been a scientific inquiry was tainted by politics from the beginning.
Despite privately confessing there was a “50:50” possibility that Covid-19 was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), Farrar signed the infamous open letter published in a prominent science journal, The Lancet, claiming the lab-leak theory is a conspiracy. Later, it turned out the letter was organized by EcoHealth Alliance’s head, Peter Daszak, whose company had funneled money from the NIH to fund potentially dangerous gain-of-function research at WIV.
Andersen set up a Slack group with other co-authors. He stated that their paper aimed to throw out the lab-leak theory. Yet he was worried that “the scientific evidence isn’t conclusive enough” to support the natural origin theory. He shared a disturbing paper written by Dr. Ralph Baric and Dr. Shi Zhengli (the leading scientist at WIV), which Farrar deemed a “how-to-manual for building the Wuhan coronavirus in a laboratory.” Dr. Edward Holmes, one of the co-authors who worked with Andersen, responded, “f-ck, this is bad” and “Oh my god, what worse words than that.”
Another coauthor, Robert Garry, deemed the lab-leak theory entirely possible in private messages like this one: “The main thing still in my mind is that the lab escape version of this is so friggin’ likely to have happened because they were already doing this type of work and the molecular data is fully consistent with that scenario.”
After these Slack messages were released, Justin Kinney, co-founder of the advocacy group Biosafety Now, told journalist Birrell that they had made a strong case for a laboratory origin for Covid.
Andersen shared their findings and doubts with Fauci and Farrar and added, “Unfortunately, none of this helps refute a lab origin, and the possibility must be considered as a serious scientific theory (which is what we do) and not dismissed out of hand as another ‘conspiracy’ theory.” Yet Fauci and Farrar asked the authors to continue writing the draft. Andersen told his co-authors, “It’s well above my pay grade to call the shots on a final conclusion.”
Conflicts of Interest
Farrar and Collins were reportedly “pleased” with the final draft of the paper before the authors submitted it to Nature Medicine. Farrar even changed some of the wording in the paper to strengthen its final conclusion. The co-authors joked in their Slack messages that Farrar should be credited as the sixth author. Roger Pielke Jr., who writes about science and politics in his Substack newsletter, commented that Farrar’s ghost authorship “is unethical and is itself a basis for a publication’s retraction.”
After the paper was published, the authors continued to express their worries about the growing evidence of the lab-leak theory in Slack. But publicly, they and the public health officials they worked with defended their conclusion and misled journalists. For example, Farrar told journalist Birrell the paper was “the most important research on the genomic epidemiology of the origins of this virus,” while failing to disclose his role or conflicts of interest.
The House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic’s final report affirms that the “Proximal Origin” paper was not the result of rigorous scientific research but the product of political intervention and coverup. Everybody involved in this scandal did it out of greed and self-preservation: The public health officials such as Farrar and Fauci tried to bury the lab-leak theory so they could hide their roles in funding the dangerous “gain-of-function” research in WIV; pressure from these officials and the authors’ desires to protect future funding for risky research drove these authors to write a paper they didn’t believe in.
By helping the CCP mislead the public and shutting down debates about the lab-leak theory so early, these useful idiots caused the international scientific and intelligence communities to miss a precious period — the early days of the pandemic — to unearth the true origin of Covid-19. Now we may never find out how Covid-19 started. No wonder one scientist called the “Proximal Origin” paper “the biggest scientific scandal of our lifetime.”
The scientific community may never regain the public trust it enjoyed before the pandemic. But the revelation of the scandal also serves as a reminder that although most of us wish to forget about the pandemic and move forward, we must continue to look back and search for the truth so we can be better prepared for the next global health emergency.